Building a biking life

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I’ve often heard remarks from people that imply a level of good fortune in my ability to bike to work. People will comment that I’m so lucky I live close enough to bike, or that it’s so lucky I found a job close to my home. I cringe when I hear this from coworkers who live far away. I feel a certain sadness at the fact that they think my ability to bike to work occurred purely by fortune. The thing is, I prioritized biking when choosing a job in the first place. Now, before I address these assumptions, I want to acknowledge that I have a ridiculous amount of privilege. There are plenty of people who don’t have the option to work at a job that’s easily bikeable, and I recognize that.

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When I was looking for jobs, I limited my search within a seven-mile radius of my home. I live in Whittier which means the business-heavy districts of downtown, northeast, uptown, the University of Minnesota, and parts of St. Louis Park fall within that radius. When I was job searching, people (ahem, my parents) thought that limiting my job search by distance was a silly parameter. I knew that it may take me longer to find a job with this restriction, but I knew that I’d be much happier at that job once I found it.

What’s the deal with building a life around a bike commute, then? When it comes to commuting, having to drive essentially drains away some the money you’re working so hard to make at your job. My financial guru, Mr. Money Mustache, has an amazing article about the true cost of commuting. Assuming you own the cheapest, paid-off car, it still costs 17 cents per mile when you account for gas, depreciation, and maintenance. Even with my measly commute of 5.6 miles one-way, that works out to almost $500 per year. Most people have newer cars and longer commutes, making that cost much higher.

But the cost isn’t even the most important piece, for me. Biking is just better: it improves my life in so many ways. Biking is my exercise and meditation. Bike commuting is my way of integrating exercise into my daily routine, which means that I’m way healthier than I’d be if I had to set aside time for exercise every day. Getting outside, moving my body: these are the essence of being alive. Driving, navigating traffic, sitting on my ass: these are the antithesis to the things I value. Even a much lower-paying job that’s bikeable would be worth it to me, because biking brings so much balance and happiness to my life.

I was fortunate in that the two job searches I’ve conducted since I finished graduate school haven’t been too painful. I knew that my limitation on distance may need to be lifted if I had significant trouble securing a job. Thankfully, that didn’t happen. However, if I’d found a job far away, I could’ve always moved to be closer to it. Just as there are jobs near my apartment, there are apartments near other jobs. And valuing biking means I would definitely consider moving out of the apartment I love to keep bike commuting.

So what does this mean for you? Possibly nothing, but possibly something. In this culture, most people take it as a given that once you grow up and get a big-kid job, you’ll drive to it. Don’t worry, I won’t judge you if you drive to work. But I want to encourage you to question the assumption that you have to. There are other ways to organize your life, and one major priority in mine is biking.

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